April 29, 2018 — Fifth Sunday of Easter
We have previously addressed the issue of what is included in the readings which we hear at our liturgies on Sunday — that is, the Church operates on a three-year cycle with A being basically the Year of Matthew; B the Year of Mark (our current year as a matter of fact); and C the Year of Luke. One might ask “Where is John?” The Gospel of John is more or less scattered through the other three cycles. All together there are 70 passages we hear from John over the three years, 30 in B, and 20 in A and C. However, these usually occur during Lent and Easter.
The other thing unique about our Easter season, which is right now, is that the First Reading is usually from the Acts of the Apostles (and occasionally from Revelations). The Church has reasons for all of this. The choice and sequence of readings are aimed at giving Christ’s faithful an ever-deepening perception of the faith they profess and of the history of salvation. During this Holy Easter Season, Acts gives us an accurate perception of the development of the Church, and the Gospel of John is an introspective view of salvation.
While the synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke) provide a view of Jesus from birth to ascension, John focuses on the final 40 months of Jesus’ life, with particular emphasis on His death and Resurrection. John has been called ‘the spiritual gospel’, not because the others are unspiritual, but because it has a special way of drawing our attention to who Jesus is and challenging us to make a personal response to Him. John’s Gospel constantly calls us to a relationship of trust with the Lord. The call is not to a complex system of beliefs, but simply to believe that Jesus really is from God and that to relate to Him is to relate to God. He is God’s Word in human reality. That is essential for us to hear during Easter season.
The First Reading from Acts speaks of St. Paul coming to Jerusalem to be with the other Christians and disciples, including Apostles. Although this event occurred three years after Paul’s conversion, he was greeted with mistrust and doubt. It would have been easy for Paul to just turn his back on those who rejected him and to leave. That is something many of us might have done, but not Paul.
Paul had a great love for Jesus, as we know, but he also felt love for those who followed the Lord and were close to Him during His time on earth. Paul also probably remembered that they saw in himself someone who had persecuted Jesus’ followers; thus, Paul responded with love. If those Paul encountered him were lacking in love, Paul provided a little more love to make up for it.
As a sidelight we must take notice of Barnabas and what he did because it provides a great example to us. Barnabas welcomes Paul into the family of God simply by providing friendship to him. Hospitality is one of the Four Pillars of stewardship. Like Barnabas, we need to be welcoming and friendly to those who come into our parish.
There are three letters attributed to St. John in the New Testament. The first letter, from which today’s Second Reading comes is somewhat different from the other two. All three were seemingly written in a more general way than the letters of St. Paul. Paul’s letters were generally written to a specific community (e.g., Philippians, Corinthians, etc.) John’s letters appear to be written to the general Christian community. However, the First Letter clearly follows the spirit of John’s Gospel.
Despite the richness of this entire reading, let us concentrate on John’s statement that “… we keep his commandments and do what pleases him. And his commandment is this: we should believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and love one another just as he commanded us.” If we are in true fellowship with the Lord, we should want to do things that please Him. If we look carefully at our lives, we need to differentiate between what we do to please ourselves and what and how much we do to please the Lord. God is glorified when we do what pleases Him, even if that may not please us at a precise moment.
In the Gospel from John, Jesus uses the image of a vine and its branches. The world He lived in was filled with grapevines. Last Sunday was Good Shepherd Sunday, but the branch depends on the vine even more than the sheep depend on the shepherd. We must be rooted in and connected to Jesus to function effectively. Our goal should be to bear fruit for God’s Kingdom.
In Greek the word for “prune” is the same as the word for “cleanse.” When the Lord prunes us, He cleanses us. Having been cleansed, we are prepared to serve Him and others and to bear fruit. When we bear fruit, in a spiritual sense we bring honor to God.